Tag Archives: Ruth Madoc

Half-Decent Proposal


New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham, Tuesday 23rd May, 2017


There is a trend among theatre-makers to turn a mediocre film into a stage musical (eg Legally Blonde) and this show sits firmly in that genre.  Adam Sandler was the go-to guy for film comedy decades ago, mixing gross-out gags with sentiment.  Without his forceful personality, the material struggles.  Even with the show’s book written by Sandler collaborator Tim Herlihy (along with lyricist Chad Beguelin) the result is a mismatch of tones that don’t quite gel.

Jon Robyns appears as the cheese-for-hire performer of the title, compering weddings at the helm of his band, Simply Wed (best joke in the piece).   Where Robyns comes into his own is when, jilted at the altar, he becomes embittered and viciously savages the happy couple at his next gig, in a heartfelt and funny outburst, a public indulgence of emotion – which is what weddings are, I suppose!  Robyns also shines in duets with Cassie Compton who plays Julie, a waitress who crops up at the same weddings.  Compton is in great form, blending pop vocals with musical theatre expressiveness.

Julie is engaged to yuppie go-getter Glen (Ray Quinn, enjoying himself as the selfish and soulless financier/fiance) but from the start it’s clear (it would be clear to a blind man on a galloping horse) that she and the wedding singer are meant to be together.  There are stumbling blocks along the way, like the reappearance of runaway bride Linda (an energetic Hannah Jay-Allen) an unlikely leather-clad rock chick-cum-Donna Summer to Robyns’s clean-cut Huey Lewis persona.

Maplins escapee Ruth Madoc appears as Rosie, the wedding singer’s grandmother, for some of the broader comic moments, and there is decent support from Tara Verloop as Holly, Ashley Emerson as Sammy, and Samuel Holmes makes the most of the marginalised role of token gay George, who doesn’t get a subplot of his own.

The tunes, by Matthew Sklar, are serviceable if not memorable, with Chad Beguelin’s lyrics snappier than the dialogue.  Director Nick Winston’s choreography evokes the 1980s, and is performed by a lively chorus.  The show attempts to arouse nostalgia in its look and with its pop culture references; I would have liked to see more mullets and bigger hair though among Francis O’Connor’s costume designs.

A run-of-the-mill love story with no surprises is the underwhelming heart of this bright and colourful production.  There is something of a reminder that materialism is not the way to go – but then you knew that already, I hope – but I don’t get engaged (ha!) with the characters or care about their lives.  This is no reflection on the cast or the production values.  I think the script needs to decide which way it’s going to go: larger-than-life laughs or sweetly sentimental rom-com.  I feel as though it tries to deliver both but ends up delivering neither.  An unhappy marriage of tones.


Wedding tackle: Jon Robyns, trashing a wedding as Robbie Hart (Photo: Darren Bell)




Holiday Camp


Malvern Theatres, Monday 17th December, 2012


The ‘name’ in this year’s Malvern panto is Hi-de-Hi star Ruth Madoc, appearing in a puff of smoke as the Fairy Godmother.  Without a baddie to banter with, she has to open the show on her own, acting as a warm-up.  Madoc’s commanding voice and pleasant manner set the tone for this energetic and irresistible production that has more in the way of stimuius/response than B F Skinner’s entire career.  The brief appearance of her yellow coat and xylophone got a warm reception from the older members of the audience, me included.

Emma Nowell’s Cinderella is a spirited, good-hearted lass and even though her stepsisters still wipe the floor with her, she presents a likeable character and not just a cipher.  Her singing voice is particularly strong.  Jamie Rickers as Buttons is relentless in his pursuit of audience participation.  His entrance, complete with a tumble into the orchestra pit, is hilarious.  He is a very physical, knockabout performer and handles the traditional patter extremely well.  Some of the pop culture references could do with updating.  We don’t really need Little Britain catchphrases, do we?

The ugly sisters, Bobbie Kent and Anthony West, have an impressive range of ridiculous outfits that accentuate the height difference between the two.  Their sardonic, deadpan bitchiness is hilarious – their evil natures bubbling over in a flash.

The handling of Prince Charming and Dandini was a breath of fresh air.  These scenes can be tepid but this pairing (Owen Thompson and Bobby Windebank) given funny lines and a tendency to break out into the ubiquitous ‘Gangnam Style’ at any random moment, really liven up the show.  They do a lovely swing version of ‘Me and My Shadow’ in contrast to the pop songs and ballads that dominate the rest of the score.

The production oozes tradition – there is a “It’s Behind You” scene with a ghost for no apparent reason other than it’s such fun.  The transformation scene is old school but effective.  I don’t like to see live animals being used for entertainment purposes; the real live Shetland ponies that appeared to pull the coach gave me the only moment of discomfort of the evening.

Director Scott Ritchie pushes all the right buttons, so to speak.  I particularly enjoyed a silent movie sequence to depict a thwarted fox hunt, and the way the relationship between Cinders and the Prince is not taken seriously – until it matters.  Their duet (from High School Musical 3, I believe) at the ball is perfectly romantic and beautifully sung; you really don’t want the clock to strike midnight and interrupt them.  Alastair Bull’s choreography is superb.  The second act opener, “Vogue”, is stunning.

The energetic dancing villagers (Simon Bolland, Katie Hale, Ellie Keene, Dylan Mason, Jasmine Sheringham, and Isla Thomson) are a tight ensemble.  There is something quirky and essentially pantomimic about seeing contemporary choreography and moves being busted in those fairytale costumes.

All in all, the show is a delight and as camp as Christmas, delivered by skilled performers who can expertly handle the form.  Head for the (Malvern) hills and have yourself a ball.


Female Parts

Birmingham Hippodrome, Wednesday 1st February, 2012

It is often the cry of actresses of a certain age that there are not enough parts for them, that they become invisible. This hugely successful play belies that complaint: middle-aged actresses and their parts are undeniably visible in this case!

In recent years a new genre of play has emerged specifically to address the shortage of roles for older females, it seems. Plays in this genre are all essentially the same and adhere to a very formulaic set-up. A diverse group of women come together for a common goal. In Stepping Out, it’s tap dancing. In The Naked Truth, it’s pole dancing. In The Tart And The Vicar’s Wife, it’s brothel-keeping. .. The women are differentiated by markedly different costumes and each will have a defining characteristic along the lines of Walt Disney’s dwarves. There’s the brassy one, the vulgar one, the timorous one, the prudish one… As they work towards their common goal along the way there will be tears and tantrums and much larking around. Someone will surprise us with how good they are at the activity in question. Someone else will reveal a private tragedy. Friends will fall out and be reconciled. They will all rise to the occasion and achieve the goal. It is play-writing by numbers.

This formula has been applied to the based-in-truth story of women in a Yorkshire branch of the Women’s Institute who posed nude for a best-selling calendar that raised more than enough money for a new settee in a hospital. You don’t need to know the facts – you can tell exactly what is going to happen on stage because of the formula.

As depicted here, this small Yorkshire community is peopled by wise-cracking individuals with boundless exuberance – ‘appen there’s summat in t’water – throwing punch lines around like buckshot. Even the bloke dying from leukaemia, (Joe McGann) is relentlessly funny. The spectre of cancer casts a brief shadow on all this exuberance; it is a comedy, after all, but the attempts at pathos lack punch.

The funniest sequence is the photo shoot for the calendar. Fuelled by vodka, the women soon lose their inhibitions and their dressing gowns and create a series of tableaux that are more saucy postcard than titillating burlesque. The script glosses over the fact that they are blatantly short of five months but then I suppose seeing all twelve would slow the pace considerably.

The cast throw themselves into proceedings with, guess what, exuberance. Lynda Bellingham provides much of the impetus as Chris (brassy), ably supported by June Watson as Jessie (grumpy) and Lisa Riley (fatty, self-conscious, prudish). Deena Payne (Viv Windsor off of Emmerdale) is the musical one. Jan Harvey is the sad one. Former Hi-de-Hi glockenspiel banger, Ruth Madoc is Marie, chair of the branch. She is responsible for booking speakers who give talks on such edifying topics as the history of the tea towel and the provenance of broccoli. Her performance is like a demonstration of accents of the British Isles. There is a cameo by Camilla Dallerup as a skinny beautician that improves on her recent foray as Genie of the Lamp but I couldn’t help cheering when Lisa Riley, overcoming her prudishness, tells her to fuck off. Formerly Jake off of Hollyoaks, Kevin Sacre doubles as the hospital-porter-cum-photographer and as a callous media type, but overall the cockles are warmed by the central friendship between Bellingham and Harvey. Fundamentally that is what these plays are all about: sisterhood and the friendship between women rather than forwarding any feminist agenda.

The play is like eating a box of chocolates in one go. Pleasant while it lasts if not entirely to one’s taste, but not all that nutritious when it’s over. And it is a box of chocolates with only one layer. I would like to see one of these plays subvert the formula and frustrate expectations. Calendar Girls is a reliable, crowd-pleasing confection. It’s like settling down to watch your favourite soap or sit-com. You’re in safe hands here as sure as April follows May.